Ben Mitchell Reports Back From the KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival

51 Ben Mitchell Reports Back From the KLIK Amsterdam Animation Festival

Often spoken of with fondness, the KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival has long been on my list as an event of interest, both as an animation filmmaker and researcher. With many years’ experience of festival submissions and, to an inevitably lesser extent, firsthand attendance, KLIK! has always stood out as a festival with sincere enthusiasm and personality. This is evidenced in a number of ways – the endearing informality of their advertising copy and social media posts, the fun and vibrancy of their occasionally-ribald visual identity as well as an established reputation for strong and consistent programming. It was therefore a much-anticipated privilege to be able to attend this year’s edition of the festival with the assistance of the Film Hub NWC.

The hub of festival activity takes place on the outskirts of Amsterdam’s city centre, its main venue a quick ferry hop directly across the river from the Central train station. Said venue is the recently constructed EYE Film Institute, opened in 2012 as a successor/expansion of the city’s former Filmmuseum. Though its architectural construct (by Delugan Meissl) is far from understated in its contemporary swishness, it also fosters a relaxed atmosphere that perfectly suits the playful quirkiness of KLIK!’s visual branding that took root for the festival duration.

The appealingly outlandish nature of KLIK!’s festival personality extends to many areas, from the encouragement of its volunteer staff to have delegates pose for their pass photo with an assortment of props (including, but not limited to, fake lips and graffito phalli) to, naturally, the programming itself. While some festivals struggle to effectively balance the wide variety of genres, themes and moods animated shorts are capable of putting across – choosing perhaps to err on the side of what is perceivably highbrow – KLIK! thankfully prioritises entertainment value of its selections, carrying across the message that a film that makes its audience laugh via sophomoric humour (Les Whyers, Isaac and Quincy, Master Blaster) deserves a place alongside films that move the viewer or invite introspection (Heavy as a Hill, Meanwhile, Through The Hawthorn) when executed well enough. Similarly KLIK!’s groupings prove that films indulging near-impenetrable artistic symbolism, stream of consciousness musings or outright nightmarish surrealism (Last Door South, Splintertime) can sit perfectly comfortably alongside accessible, narrative-driven family fare; if anything it accentuates the lightness of the former and the darkness of the latter (despite an unsuspecting aesthetic, works such as Go to City Eli or Bingo are not without their grim moments). Even instances of parallel thinking are presented without bias, such as Ruben Leaves and Panic, two films that deal with a near identical premise of unwanted OCD thoughts, albeit executed in two entirely different writing and design styles.

Certainly the festival programmers don’t shy away from films that might, at face value, push the buttons of a more conservative audience. Animated shorts containing what might be dismissed as entirely superficial motifs of sex or violence are given the opportunity to show their true colours, such as the curiously touching worlds of Omulan! and Ivan’s Need.

Outside of the competition screenings the festival shone with its series of masterclasses, special presentations and hands-on displays for attendees to get involved with. These interactive opportunities ranged from the ever-present installation Cherry (the projected, disembodied head of virtual band Studio Killers’ animated mascot, created by Eliza Jäppinen to keep a watchful eye over festivalgoers), an open-to-all loom provided by Crossover Collective where those with time to kill might sew a doodle or two, a make-your-own-zoetrope display and a thorough demonstration of the capabilities of the Oculus Rift, offering the chance to experience fully immersive film and interactive projects such as Arjan van Meerten’s Surge and the collaborative effort Colosse.

Also available on a first-come, first-served basis were a number of exclusive interview sessions with attending guests, where smaller groups of 10-20 could take the opportunity to bend the ears of the likes of PES, Cartoon Saloon’s Tomm Moore and Disney’s Eric Daniels in a more up-close-and-personal manner than during their main presentations. The presentations themselves also proved a huge draw, Tomm Moore providing a fascinating and comprehensive breakdown of his involvement in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet following a rare screening of the film the previous night. Similarly Johnny Kelly of Nexus delivered some keen insights into his own working process through a methodical list of thirteen key points, painting an extensive picture of the realities of studio life, corporate commissions and keeping creativity alive. Another veteran of tactile filmmaking in both his commercial and commissioned work was PES, whose finely-honed stage patter and presentation skills allowed for an extremely entertaining look at the trajectory of his career and the outside-of-the-box creativity he’s best known for.

Additional, thematically-grouped screenings boasted a unique level of thought behind them, oftentimes designed to have the audience think of animation in a new light. The familiarly-titled programme Ceci n’est pas une animation (which roughly translates to This Is Not A Cartoon) presented a more literal reflection of its name, exploring films where the lines of filmmaking methods are pointedly blurred – the universes of Lonely Bones or Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, for example, taking a metaphysical approach to their uses of animation, live-action and the hard-to-categorise limbo that lies between. In practical terms, Johnny Kelly’s commercial project Coca-Cola: Happiness Is Movement and Grant Orchard’s Recycling show off the impressive results when the principles of animated pre-vis are applied to construction-based live-action projects.

Construction and craft were, ultimately, the prevailing theme of this year’s KLIK!, with a significant percentage of its official selection involving stop-motion or puppet-based films, and various supporting programmes focusing on them entirely. Eunic: Puppet Nostalgia was a vibrant celebration of the role stop-motion has had in some of Europe’s most memorable television series, from Pingu and The Moomins to more contemporary fare such as A Town Called Panic. Things Have Feelings Too was an objectophiliac’s delight, comprehensively supporting the notion that stop-motion needn’t be dependent on expertly-crafted puppets when a strong idea can be just as effectively applied (perhaps even more so, such as in the striking use of papier-mâché in Women’s Letters) to everyday office detritus and miscellany.

Another inspired screening theme was The Makings of Animation, where a variety of animation documentaries took the place of the films themselves. On a similar note, and in keeping with the practice of other prominent animation festivals, attending filmmakers were granted the opportunity to speak about their work in conversation with animation researcher Hans Walther as part of an informal Filmmakers Talkshow series that took place over the last three afternoons of the festival. Walther’s experience, which includes being an avid collector of industry paraphernalia and veteran interviewer (previously he has edited the Dutch-only publication Animated Conversations), proved a natural fit when it came to encouraging the artists to elaborate further on the genesis and production of their respective projects. These Q&As also served to enlighten the audience on a variety of topics, from the virtues of old-school analogue production over digital, personal practice as regards idea generation, international approaches to the teaching of animation and the wide gamut of funding circumstances around the world. The greater percentage of these sessions have been recorded and given extended reach through in partnership with KLIK! as a series of podcasts.

Film highlights

Accompanying many of this year’s well-established and previously documented standout shorts (such as Teeth, Guida, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos and World of Tomorrow) were a number of additional highlights worth mentioning:

Kaleidoscope (Dir. Catherine Dubeau)

Heavy as a Hill (Dir. Emily Neilson)

Pircantaturi (Dir. Lorenzo Fresta, Angela Conigliaro)

Tsunami (Dir. Sofie Kampmark)

[Otto] (Dir. Job, Joris & Marieke)

Splintertime (Dir. Rosto)

Omulan! (Dir. Matei Branea)

The Meek (Dir. Joe Brumm)

Peripheria (Dir. David Coquard-Dassault)

Under the Apple Tree (Dir. Erik van Schaaik)

Ruben Leaves (Dir. Frederic Siegel)


Ben also presented a series of exclusive podcast minisodes from KLICK! Listen to them all here: 

Ben Mitchell is an animator, animation writer and co-managing director of Skwigly Online Animation Magazine. Ben attended KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival with a bursary from Film Hub NWC – for more details see here.